historic philadelphia tour guide memories

I love Philadelphia history. As a child born in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia in the 1960s I was literally raised in it, with it, immersed in it.

My late father worked on the Continental Congress reenactment. That was 1974. It was super cool. I remember it. We got to meet Jimmy and Roslyn Carter before he was President among others. (I found a video on YouTube about it, actually .) The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in the autumn of 1774, so in 1974 in advance of the US Bicentennial, there was this reenactment.

Circa 1975 I was 11. And my parents somehow convinced the then Superintendent of Independence National Historic Park, Hobart Cawood, to let me be a volunteer tour guide of the Todd House (Dolly Todd Madison’s Philadelphia home way before she was a First Lady- I was obsessed with her as a kid and even have a China doll my mother made for me from a kit still), and the Bishop White House (the Philadelphia one, not the Rose Tree one White sent his family to during the Yellow Fever outbreak in late 18th Century.)

I gave my tours in Colonial garb. My mother made me a costume that included a mob cap (from a pattern similar to the one above I saw on eBay). I was a kid, but I loved Philadelphia history so I did research and made sure what I said was historically accurate. Grown-ups who took my tour told me then that my tour was better and more interesting than a lot of the grown-ups like Park Service folk giving tours. Regular lay volunteers were nice to me the precocious kid. Actual Park Service guides? Mmmm they tolerated me. Sort of.

Hobie Cawood allowed me to have memories to carry with me forever. It was a magical experience. Better than any camp I could have gone to that summer.

Around the same time I also helped a Philadelphia gardener named Bill Spann plant the kitchen garden at the Todd House. I contributed one of the plants to the garden from my own garden – Irish Camphor. My paternal grandmother had smuggled it home from a trip to Ireland and gave me a piece to grow, and I split part of my plant and donated some to this garden which was planted then to be historically accurate for a Colonial kitchen garden. I do not know if they still have a garden there or not.

Flash forward to the mid 1980s and starting to look for a “real” job. One of my great aunts had been a Civil Service employee her whole life (starting in World War II) and she used to get these paper catalogs of job listings for government jobs. She used to give them to me because to her a government job was the best kind of security. I looked through one of the catalogs and they had jobs that were either GS3 or GS4 grade Park Ranger jobs at Independence National Historic Park. I applied for a job, and to my surprise, got it.

I got this job as my friends were getting ready for one last post-College summer at the beach. I didn’t really want to go to work, but my parents were insistent. I went and got my polyester Smokey The Bear uniforms (complete with hat.) I will admit Main Line friends at the time mocked me.

I remember going to report for work at the visitors’ center. As an entry level baby Park Service employee, I had orientation and also shadowed park ranger tour guides and was tasked with also creating my own tour. I went back to my first Independence National Historic Park first loves – the Todd and Bishop White Houses. I was shocked at how historically inaccurate or historically sloppy the tours were at that time. I actually found it depressing.

So once again, now as a young adult, I researched and created my tour. No one really checked it, but I made it historically accurate. I did not embellish. It was tough being a new kid though. The established rangers viewed new kids on the block much like you would view a pesky younger sibling and were very cliquish. I will admit that was pretty much the only job I never really made friends.

Working for the Park Service in the cradle of American liberty in the mid 1980s did come with a pass key. I happily on breaks and lunch times explored photo archives that existed on upper floors of either the First or Second Bank (I forget which.) One time I also went with people to the tippy top to the wooden bell tower where the Liberty Bell once hung. That was super cool. All around inside the bell tower at that time were the signatures of famous people and regular people who had climbed to the top. I signed my name in ball point pen near where Ronald Reagan had signed his name. I have no idea if my signature or even his and others still exist as restoration work was done a few years ago.

In the post 9/11 world, I doubt as a Park Service employee that you can just wander at will like you once could. One of the drawbacks which I don’t know if it has changed was dealing with the unbalanced and homeless who frequented the historic sites. That was hard and sad.

I will admit that while I loved giving tours of my favorite houses from my childhood and it was a kick, I hated the job. I hated the scratchy and super ugly polyester uniform. I did not like the government worker cliques I encountered. So I maybe lasted a couple of months. And I quit and much to my parent’s anger, went back to the beach for the majority of one last summer.

Many years passed and I remember another time years ago now doing the tourist thing with a friend in from out of town. I remember taking them down to the Independence Hall area. We went on a tour of houses, Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall, and even a carriage ride tour. It was so historically OFF that to this day, I have never recommended those tours again. I recommend self-touring.

Well, in April’s Philadelphia Magazine there is an article about these tours. It’s worth reading. Thanks for stopping by and below is a very small excerpt:

Fact-Checking Philly History Tours: Truths, Half-Truths and Truthiness
Philadelphia Magazine
By Don Steinberg


….Sightseeing tours of historic Philadelphia are like blizzards of candy factoids raining from the sky. As the landmarks whiz by, guides shower visiting pilgrims with history-book facts, anecdotes about the founding fathers, incredible backstories about public art, impressive and begging-for-fact-check firsts and biggests and oldests….It turns out not every truth, at least when it comes to Philadelphia history tours, is self-evident. Based on my small sample size, I’m putting it at about 83 percent. That means — good news! — our city sightseeing tours are mostly accurate. But there’s still a fertile area of dare-you-to-disprove sketchiness and just enough whacked-out face-palmers to keep the city’s vital tourist audience entertained. What could be more American?

Ten years ago, Philadelphia City Council passed a law, and mayor Michael Nutter signed it, that said anybody who wanted to give a paid sightseeing tour in Center City had to pass a Philadelphia history test to get a license. That ordinance remains on the books, and this April we celebrate the 10th anniversary of its never being enforced.

historic demolition by neglect in exton, west whiteland?

West Whiteland Township officials must wear blinders going in and out of their township building!

This is that historic farm house right as in directly across the street from them that is on the mall property at Main Street in Exton.

Wasn’t this the property that if that mall got built those structures would be saved and restored?

I actually had my husband turn around so I could take photos because we were so shocked at the dilapidated deteriorated appearance of these structures. And one side has graffiti on it as well.

The only caretakers of the property are the Canadian geese!

Chester County, we have to stop allowing elected officials and others from paying only lip service to historic preservation. It needs to mean something. We deserve better in our communities.

Oh, and now we can see shrink wrapping structures is NOT historic preservation, right?

Sign me appalled.

In 2002 The Daily Local News wrote:

Protecting history

At the Main Street at Exton site, formerly known as the Indian Run Farm, some of the county’s most historical treasures will stand beside some of the county’s largest new stores.

A case of the old meeting the new, part of the Main Street project includes the adaptive re-use of several historical buildings, one of which may be nearly 300 years old.

“It’s kind of remarkable that historical structures like this can co-exist with this type of development,” said West Whiteland Historical Commission Chairman Bruce Flannery. “I think there is an opportunity there for a something really fruitful between the township, developer and community, but that remains to be seen. We know the resources will stay. The question is how they will remain…….”Historically, the crossroads has been where some of the county’s first settlers, given land through the 1684 William Penn grant, designated by the king of England, chose to call home. Penn gave 40,000 acres of land to Welsh Quakers fleeing persecution in England.

At that time Route 100 was most likely an Indian trail, said Flannery.

The land where Main Street at Exton is being constructed was initially given to Richard Thomas, a Quaker who fled Wales with his family. The Thomas family complex was centered around the area where routes 30 and 100 now intersect.

Operating a gentleman’s farm, Richard Ashbridge, a direct descendant of Thomas, built the 1843 house, renovated in 1912, that stands at the site. Both the house and the woodcutter’s cottage, where a stone dates the building back to 1707, are class one historical structures.

“The resources on the Indian Run Farm are some of the most historical in the township,” said Flannery. “The site itself and the complex are extremely important and unique.”…..The land where the former Thomas homestead and the current Ashbridge house stand is “sacrosanct,” said Flannery. “It certainly was one of the first settlements,” he said. “It’s a really wonderful farmstead, really beautiful.”

So this is the respect for the past that the developer here has shown and West Whiteland has allowed? 16 years of demolition by neglect for what they said is one of the first settlements in the township and of paramount historical importance?!

In the spring of 2017, apparently the developer had this idea of apartments there. You can read the article in The Daily Local, and here is an excerpt:

Main Street at Exton builder Wolfson Group, plans to build a 410-unit apartment complex near Commerce Drive and next to the Exton Square Mall. The 26-room mansion is slated to become a community center .

The township has not awarded final approval for the apartment project. The property is zoned TC or Town Center.

Shoppers at Main Street at Exton have watched the historic building decay since long before it was wrapped with protective tarps in 2002. Much of the 1843 era house is now exposed to the elements as tattered tarps blow in the wind….

So….how many years does a developer have to let something stand and rot before they file for demolition permits in West Whiteland?

There is also an Abandoned Steve video on this which is quite interesting. CLICK HERE TO VIEW.

restoring architectural history in exton, pa

These are the things that make me so happy to see!

And yes, these farmhouses are indeed part of the architectural history of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Homeowner photo – see more at https://www.facebook.com/WestWhitelandInn/

heaven on earth is home

It looks like a painting. But it is real life.  Taken a short time ago over in Westtown.  I made my last trip probably to Pete’s Produce for the season.  (They have the most fabulous pumpkins this year, but I digress.)

Heaven on earth is where we call home here in Chester County.  Traveling through the scarred battle zone of raped land of the Sunoco Logistics Pipeline horror show to get to Pete’s really made an impression today.

We as residents need to do a better job advocating for Chester County herself.  Election Day will be here in a blink.  The power of your vote is one of the greatest ways to be heard.  Those who are NOT stewards of the land need to GO.

We need more land preservation and land conservation and less development.  We need to see what can be done to save what is left of our beautiful landscapes, including from the damn pipelines.

We have an agricultural and equine heritage that needs to be saved.  We have waterways and woods and wildlife and even the humble honey bee depending on us.

We can’t just talk about it and we certainly can’t depend upon the Chester County Planning Commission.  Pretty pie-graphs and surveys just take up space on a website.  What are they doing, really?  What are the Chester County Commissioners doing, really?  Planned photo ops are good for politics, what do they actually do for all of us? The all like to say they are helping plan our future in Chester county but I ask again exactly whose futures are the planning? Mine, yours, or theirs and those who make lots of political contributions?

I was down on the Main Line a few times over the past few weeks.  I realized once again how I truly now dislike where I used to call home.  And it is not just the great pretenders to what now passes as the “social” scene.  It’s the density, the roads, the overall frantic pace and congestion.  I realized how I literally exhale when I start to feel the open sky, fields, and forest of Chester County every time I am coming home.

But we are at such risk of losing that. We are at serious risk of losing Chester County.  From the history to the land, forests, fields, water (wells, streams, lakes, everything), to the old farm houses and barns to other historic structures — we have to act.

As my friend Mindy Rhodes has wisely said via M. Jankowski “If not you, then who?”  and John Lewis  “If not now, then when?”

Think about it.  Start with who you vote for.  And what you vote for.

preservation party with a purpose

When you go to a party at Duportail it’s alway fabulous. But it’s especially fun when it is a Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust event.

This evening was the preview party for the TPT Historic House Tour which is Saturday, September 23. (You can still buy tickets and it’s so awesome a day!)

This event is courtesy of my dear friend Pattye Benson who is President of the Trust and Innkeeper at The Great Valley House of Valley Forge.

The preview party was terrific and as always wonderful food and gracious company.

And the music. The music was fabulous! We had the pleasure of listening to the CPFA Jazz Mavericks from the Center for Performing and Fine Arts in West Chester. These young musicians were incredible!

A wonderful evening and all about historic preservation. All proceeds benefit the Living History Center at Duportail.

Remember you can still sign up for the house tour! It’s going to be amazing and there will be a stop at another favorite place – Life’s Patina at Williwbrook Farm! (It’s their fall sale weekend)

playing tourist in chester county: rambling around marshallton

Every once in a while you need a staycation day. Today was mine. My friend Chris and I went to Marshallton today.  We played tourist in our home county. We rambled in Chester County.

Everyone knows I have not been very mobile since my knee injury at the end of February/ first couple days of March and subsequent surgery in May.  (Yes, it took that long.  I couldn’t walk, and I certainly couldn’t drive and U.S. healthcare has a long and winding and irritating process if you do not practice Emergency Room medicine, as in push to the head of the line and bypass everything by going straight to the E.R.) So now, as I go through the process if physical therapy, I am thrilled to get out again.

My friend picked me up and we went to The Four Dogs Tavern.  I had forgotten how amazing the food is and how wonderful the ambiance, and the terrific and friendly staff. We had the beet salad, which was amazing, and split the mushroom and goat cheese flatbread.

Then we did the senior stroll of the village of Marshallton – I am moving like a snail still.  But oh, to take in the beauty of this village!  This is so what Chester County is about.

My late father loved Marshallton and in particular, the Marshallton Inn.  When some of my girlfriends and I were in our twenties we loved the then Oyster Bar and way back in the dark ages of the late 1980s some were dating guys who competed in the Marshallton Triathlon (and wow what a party afterwards!)

So flash forward to me as a quasi grown-up (some days are better than others!) and today.  Marshallton is more beautiful than ever and the gardens are marvelous!  Ran into another friend and met a nice man named Ernie and his wife.  Ernie was restoring an antique buggy on his front porch.

Ernie encouraged us to go back further down the lane by his home to see the Bradford Friends Meeting, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  I am so glad he did!  I had never seen it in person before.

Marshallton is just the village to remind you what Chester County is about.  Marshallton is an unincorporated village in Chester County and a Federal Historic District. The Marshallton Historic District has 65 contributing structures and 3 contributing sites. Marshallton is like a living history site, living proof that historic districts and preservation can work. 

Marshallton lies within West Bradford Township.  In recent years it has faced encroachment of development from the surrounding area.

We did not wander up Strasburg Road to see where Marshallton Walk is, for example. Stargazers Village that thing that was  contentious enough, that it  doesn’t appear to be more than “coming soon” I guess? (Stargazers shows up on this “Envision” website.)

And then there was Embreeville, which started out life as the  Chester County Almshouse in 1798. It is also where Indian Hannah is purportedly buried.

Embreeville has had no news since February 2017 when West Bradford saidZoning Hearing #395 for Embreeville Redevelopment, LP scheduled for February 1, 2017 has been continued to a date uncertain.   There was no hearing on February 1st.  Any resumption of the hearing will be after public notice and will be posted on this website.”  (Embreeville has been so crazy it has it’s own page on West Bradford’s website.)

Now the Marshallton Conservation Trust which was created in 2009 exists to help preserve the village and surrounding rural area:

“Motivated by the desire to see the Marshallton area return to a safe, walkable community and its rich history preserved, several residents formed this 501c3 non –profit in 2009. Marshallton Conservation Trust is committed to preserving the historic integrity and the quality of life in this very special area for future generations….The Marshallton Conservation Trust (MCT) promotes the preservation and improvement of the Marshallton community through initiatives focused on maintaining and improving its livability along with its distinctive character.”

Marshallton Conservation Trust also sponsors many events.  As a matter of fact the 44th Marshallton Triathlon is October 1st. 

But back to the history.  Reference a website called Living Places:

The Marshallton Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.

…The Marshallton Historic District is located along the Strasburg Road in central Chester County. It assumed its present configuration between the 1760s-1880s, with scattered infill and rebuilding occurring into the 1920s. Of the 71 principal buildings in the Marshallton Historic District, 67 contribute to its historical and architectural significance. The 4 non-contributing buildings include three from the 1930s-40s (a dwelling, store, and apartment building) and a c.1965 brick dwelling. Of similar size and scale to the district’s contributing buildings (by which they are far outnumbered), these non-contributing buildings do not detract from Marshallton’s overall architectural unity.

Marshallton lies only four miles west of the county seat of West Chester; its surroundings are still rural. Leaving West Chester by the Strasburg Road, one passes sprawling farms, open fields, and pasture land. There is a small group of historic buildings near the nationally registered Cope’s Bridge on the East Branch Brandywine River, and then more open country….

The Marshallton Historic District is primarily significant for its association with Strasburg Road, established in the late 18th century as a thoroughfare between Philadelphia and Strasburg in Lancaster County. Throughout 200 years of its history, Marshallton’s focus has been on Strasburg Road, and both literally and figuratively its growth has paralleled the road’s. With its integrity of setting and well preserved collection of buildings representing a variety of historic uses, Marshallton today conveys a clear, sense of the past — when the Strasburg Road was a primary transportation route and, capitalizing on its location, the village functioned as a rural service center for both travelers and nearby farmers.

Marshallton can trace its origins to the 1760s when a few houses, a Quaker Meeting, an inn, and a blacksmith shop were loosely grouped near the intersection of the roads to Strasburg and Downingtown. At that time the Strasburg Road was actually a fragmented series of local roads leading west.

 

More on Marshallton:

Unionville Times Living History: A tale of two names, Marshallton and the Marshalton Inn Aug 10th, 2012 

 

Marshallton Conservation Trust: The Village of Marshallton, West Bradford, Chester County PA

 

Marshallton History Off of West Bradford Website

 

National Register of Historic Places Marshallton

I had one of the best afternoons I had in a while.  Good company, a nice lunch, and photographing one of Chester County’s most beloved gems.

Go to Marshallton.

Soak it in, have a meal at Four Dogs, support the village’s ongoing preservation efforts and events.

Walk down the street like we did and wonder about all of the people who walked it before us. Be in the moment of some amazing history and just a lovely and charming spot.

It’s what Chester County is all about.

food for thought

“You have to get people to value history.”

As developers take over Chester County 1 acre at a time, what makes a community? What value do history and traditions have? And why isn’t the Chester County Planning Commission doing anything except cheering on developers?

Especially note the part about Fox Catcher and what Toll Brothers did there. It will be the fate of Crebilly if that plan goes through.

This short film shown by the Newtown Square Historical Society is so thought provoking. I wish more local historical societies would record the history for posterity like this. This film is by Hanna Bottger when she was a student at The University of Pennsylvania. I believe she now resides in New York.